INDEPENDENCE — The rest of the league is starting to realize what Cavaliers fans already know: Kyrie Irving is the real deal.
Irving was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday after leading the Cavs to a 3-0 record and averaging a league-high 35.7 points.
The 20-year-old, who was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team on Thursday, had 40 points against Boston, 35 vs. Milwaukee and 32 against Toronto, which included a deep, game-winning 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left.
For the week, Irving shot a sizzling .612 from the field (41-for-67), .545 on 3-pointers (6-for-11) and .950 at the line (19-for-20), enabling him to become the first Cavs player to earn Player of the Week honors since LeBron James in 2009-10.
Irving, who could very well end up starting for the East now that Boston’s Rajon Rondo is out with a torn ACL, did not speak to the media following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts, but issued a statement through the team’s public relations department after the Cavs were the only team in the East to go undefeated last week.
“This has been a very good week for our team,” he said of Cleveland recording its first three-game winning streak since March 7-11, 2012. “We’re working hard and making progress. While I’m honored to win the award this week, the most important and exciting thing is our success as a team and continuing our focus to keep getting better every day.”
After becoming one of seven players (Kobe Bryant, James, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson) to make the All-Star team before turning 21, Irving is now one of five players to score 30 points in three straight games before that age. The others are John Drew, Bernard King, James and Kevin Durant.
“He’s had one of the best weeks of his life,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “You get named to the All-Star team, Athlete of the Year in Cleveland (at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards), then he goes out and averages about 35 points.
“He’s had a pretty good week. I think he’d be the first to admit it’s been a great week for him, but he wants to keep growing as a basketball player and as a leader.”
Irving’s scoring average not only led the NBA for the week — only two other players averaged 30 points or more — but so did his free throw percentage for players with a minimum of 20 attempts.
In the last 3 minutes of the fourth quarter, he averaged 8.0 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the field and 7-for-7 at the line.
“That just goes back to, down the stretch, my teammates and my coaching staff having confidence in me,” Irving said after the game in Toronto. “I am thankful for that. It just makes it easier in the fourth quarter for me to play my game.”
Wayne Ellington, acquired in a trade with Memphis last week, has played just two games with Irving, but he’s already impressed.
“He’s got it. Whatever it is, he’s got it,” the fourth-year shooting guard said. “He’s a great talent and he’s only going to get better.”
A week ago against the Celtics, Irving had 19 points in the first period and 15 in the fourth, 11 of the latter coming in the final 2:31.
Against Milwaukee on Friday, Irving had 16 points in the third period as Cleveland started its rally from a 20-point deficit. He then added eight points in the final 2:19 of the fourth as the Cavs iced the game.
Against Toronto on Saturday, he dashed from one end of the floor to the other and made a ridiculous, driving layup look easy to tie the game.
Then, after the Raptors went up two, he calmly dribbled up the floor and drilled a 3-pointer from way beyond the arc — “Until I shot it, I didn’t realize how far back I was,” he said — to give the Cavs their third straight win.
“I don’t know exactly what ‘it’ is,” Scott said when told of Ellington’s comments. “Kyrie has something special, there’s no doubt about that.
“He knows this better than anybody: He has to work his butt off to continue to get better.”
Oft-injured Cavs guard Daniel Gibson sprained his right big toe in the second quarter against Toronto and did not return. X-rays were negative. Veteran forward Luke Walton missed the Raptors game with a sore left foot and ankle, while swingman C.J. Miles missed his third straight game with a virus.
Miles, who could have played in Toronto if needed, is expected to play tonight when the Cavs host Golden State, while Gibson didn’t practice Monday and probably won’t see action. Walton will be a game-time decision.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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